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Dame Judith Hackitt has published her report today and a senior leader of her team will address the IRPM Annual Seminar in London next week (23rd May, Park Plaza, London). The content runs along the themes of her interim report issued earlier this year. Whilst stopping short of a total ban on cladding that may have some degree of combustibility, the key themes are accountability and regulation of industry led solutions. A regulator should oversee the eco-system of products, through construction and into management. This will prove a difficult message for campaigners calling for an outright ban on any form of combustible cladding, and risks the wider message of accountability being lost in simplistic reporting. A systemic change to how fire safety is managed during construction and then occupation is the meat of the report and the impact on residential property managers could be significant. Dame Judith says
“As the review has progressed, it has become clear that the whole system of regulation, covering what is written down and the way in which it is enacted in practice, is not fit for purpose, leaving room for those who want to take shortcuts to do so.” Further…
“Changes to the regulatory regime will help, but on their own will not be sufficient unless we can change the culture away from one of doing the minimum required for compliance, to one of taking ownership and responsibility for delivering a safe system throughout the life cycle of a building.”
“At the heart of this required change is a shift of ownership. Despite being advised at the outset that the regulatory system for building was outcomes and performance-based, I have encountered masses of prescription which is complex and in some cases inconsistent. The prescription is largely owned by government, with industry – those who should be the experts in best practice – waiting to be told what to do and some looking for ways to work around it.”
Presently the chain of command and the owner of responsibility is not always clear in management situations. That will change, if the report recommendations are adopted. Dame Judith is calling for a Duty Holder to take responsibility for the fire safety of the building. This is intended to be the building owner. How that will work when the owner is an off-shore trust, for example, remains to be seen, as a UK based duty holder is required. The detail drafting of such a measure would need to be drafted with care. Duty holders, thence property managers, would be responsible for the fire safety of the entire building. That includes within the apartments themselves. For leasehold building managers, that will likely require legislation to give managers the authority to enter, carry out necessary works and recover costs from leaseholders.
For managers wrestling with buildings clad in high-risk systems, and disappointed by yesterday’s promise from Government to cover the cost of recladding buildings extending only to social/HA stock, there is another clear message in the report.
“We know that many owners and landlords are taking responsibility and initiating remedial work where required. But even now I am aware that some building owners and landlords are waiting for direction from this review on what materials should be used to replace cladding that has been identified as inadequate. I would urge them not to wait but to consider what materials have already been identified and tested as safe. They must also take steps to ensure that those whom they commission to carry out any remedial works are competent to do the work and that the work is quality assured.”
In short, don’t wait for Government to tell you what to do. Industry must put its house in order and regulatory structures are called for to ensure that happens. In the meantime, you should make buildings safe without further delay.
Andrew V Bulmer BSc FIRPM FRICS